Santa Fe Trail Scenic & Historic Byway
Corridor Management Plan

Section 2

Physical Description

Table of Contents

Physical Description

General Review of Road

Traffic Volumes, Safety and Accidents

Maintenance

Roadway Improvements

Recent Improvements
Projects in Progress
Proposed Projects

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Physical Description

The Mountain Route of the Santa Fe National Historic Trail in Colorado extends between the Kansas border east of Holly and the New Mexico border south of Trinidad following State Highways 50, 350, 160 and Interstate Highway 25. The nearly 184-mile trail corridor has been designated a Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway by the State of Colorado Byways Commission.

This description divides the Byway into five segments to convey a sense of the manner in which travelers are likely to experience it. The five segments of the corridor delineated in this inventory are described below:

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General Review of Road

The Byway can accommodate standard passenger vehicles. The road surface is generally poor based on the CDOT classification system of poor, fair and good. The road can handle traffic traveling the posted speed of 65 miles per hour through rural portions. Attendees at public participation meetings and persons who completed surveys generally agreed with CDOT's road surface ratings. Sight lines on the roadway are generally excellent. There are ample opportunities for fast moving traffic to pass slower vehicles. Farm machinery is common on the road during the peak agricultural season.

The number of travel lanes, road surface width, and surface condition of highways 50, 350, 160 and I-25 are provided in the following table.

General Description of Byway Segments

 Highway location

 Miles

 General Surface Condition

 Number of Travel Lanes

Lane Width 

 Shoulder Width
Highway 50 between KS/CO border and Lamar

 32

 poor

 2,4

 1 2 feet

 variable
Highway 50 between Lamar and Las Animas

 37

 poor-fair

 2,4

 1 2 feet

 variable
Highway 50 between Las Animas and La Junta

 20

 fair

 2

 1 2 feet

 variable
Highways 350 & 160 between La Junta and Trinidad

 82

 fair

 2

 1 2 feet

 2 feet
Interstate Highway 25 between Trinidad and CO/NM border

 13

 fair-good

 4

 1 2 feet

 outside: 10 feet

inside: 4 feet

 

Highway 50 between the Kansas/Colorado border and Lamar

This segment of Highway 50 is entirely in Prowers County. It is primarily a two-lane, undivided highway. The roadway is typically 44 feet wide with 12 foot wide travel lanes. The road surface is classified poor, with recently resurfaced roadway interspersed with older, more rough stretches of asphalt. Road shoulders are intermittent, making stopping on the roadside difficult to dangerous in places. The width of the right-of-way varies, particularly on the north side of the highway. In places, the right-of-way is steeply sloped and/or narrow, constrained by private property, power lines or Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway property. In places, the right-of-way is situated in wetland. This is especially the case on the north side of the road. Traffic volume is relatively light, consisting of a mix of personal, recreational and commercial vehicles.

This segment of the Byway passes through the communities of Holly, Granada and Lamar, narrowing slightly in the residential areas of Holly and Granada. Posted speed limits vary from 65 mph on the rural highway to 35 mph in residential and commercial areas. The majority of this road segment is rural highway where actual vehicle speeds frequently exceed the posted 65 mph speed limit. Approximately ten miles west of the Kansas/Colorado border, the highway crosses the Arkansas River.

Highway 50 between Lamar and Las Animas

Highway 50 between Lamar and Las Animas traverses both Prowers and Bent Counties. This segment of roadway passes through a diverse landscape of undeveloped agricultural land, commercial zones and residential areas (Lamar, Hasty and Las Animas). The towns of Lamar and Las Animas are important commercial and residential centers. Lamar is the County Seat of Prowers County; Las Animas is the County Seat of Bent County.

The highway alternates between a two-lane, undivided road and a four-lane divided highway. Travel lanes are 12 feet wide. The road surface varies between fair and poor condition. Road shoulders are present on the entire segment. The road narrows slightly and shoulders disappear at virtually all bridges over creeks and drainages. These conditions suggest improvements would be needed to handle pedestrian, bicycles and equestrian usage if their volume is to be increased significantly.

The width of the right-of-way varies, especially on the north side of the road, which is bounded by power lines, private property and an occasional wetland. Posted speed limits vary from 35 mph in residential areas to 65 mph on the rural highway.

Highway 50 between Las Animas and La Junta

This section runs through both Bent and Otero Counties. This segment of the Byway is highly variable, as it passes through residential, commercial, and rural areas. The towns of Las Animas and La Junta are important commercial and residential centers on this roadway segment. La Junta is the County Seat of Otero County. Many travelers from the metro-Denver/Colorado Springs/Pueblo area gain access to the Byway corridor via Highway 50 at La Junta.

In the residential areas of Las Animas and La Junta, standard residential road widths and speed limits are found. In the commercial district in La Junta, the highway is four lanes and divided, with no road shoulder. Travel lanes are 12 feet wide and the road surface is in good condition.

From approximately two miles east of La Junta to Las Animas, the road is a two-lane rural highway with a shoulder and posted speeds to 65 mph. Here the highway is generally undivided. Travel lanes are 12 feet wide and the road surface is in fair condition. In places, the road shoulder is present but not well marked. The width of the right-of-way on the rural sections of the highway varies. The right-of-way on the north side of the road is bounded by power lines, railroad property, private property and an occasional wetland.

Highways 350 and 160 between La Junta and Trinidad

Highways 350 and 160 between La Junta and Trinidad traverses both Otero and Las Animas Counties. In the residential and commercial areas of La junta and Trinidad, standard road widths and speed limits are found. The Byway passes through downtown Trinidad, which has been designated a National Historic District (Corazon de Trinidad) and where there is occasional traffic congestion. Trinidad is the County Seat of Las Animas County and an important commercial and residential center.

Between La Junta and Trinidad the road is an undivided two-lane rural highway, with posted speeds to 65 mph. There are no discernible changes in the road where Highway 350 merges into Highway 160 at Beshoar Junction. Travel lanes are 12 feet wide, with two foot wide shoulders. Recently resurfaced roadway is interspersed with older road, and the entire road surface is in generally fair condition. The right-of-way varies, but is generally narrow. In places, the right-of-way is steeply sloped, especially on the west side of the highway.

Interstate Highway 25 between Trinidad and the Colorado/New Mexico border

Interstate 25 is the major north-south highway along the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains. It is also the only north-south interstate highway in Colorado. Its high traffic volume includes all types of vehicles. This segment of I-25 extends between Trinidad and the Colorado/New Mexico border at Raton Pass. This is a divided highway, with two traffic lanes in each direction. Lanes are 12 feet wide. The outside shoulder is ten feet wide and the median shoulder is four feet wide. The road surface is in fair to good condition. The right-of-way is very narrow over much of this segment. The highway is occasionally closed to vehicle traffic at Raton Pass due to severe winter weather. This is the only segment of the Byway likely to experience such closures except during severe storms where roads throughout the region are subject to closures.

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Traffic Volumes, Safety and Accidents

Average daily traffic volumes are presented in the following table. Ranges are provided due to the differences in daily vehicle traffic and accident rates between urban and rural points of measurement on the highway. Information quoted is from the Colorado Department of Transportation, Transportation Safety and Traffic Engineering Branch.

Traffic Rate and Accident Rate Comparisons for Byway Segments- 1995

  Highway location

 Miles
Average daily vehicle traffic range 1995

 Total Number of Accidents

Total Accident Rate Range *
Highway 50 between KS/CO border and Lamar

 32
2,100 -5,750

 29

 0.00-3.60
Highway 50 between Lamar and Las Animas

 37
2,750 -14,400

 78

 0.22-3.34
Highway 50 between Las Animas and La Junta

 20
3,800 -12,900

 24

 0.00-1.37
Highways 350 & 160 between La Junta and Trinidad

 82
230 - 11,200

 28

 0.00-2.85
Interstate Highway 25 between Trinidad and CO/NM border

 13
8,000 - 8,700

 54

 0.68-1.67

*Number of accidents per one million vehicle miles traveled.

Current records of traffic accidents are located at CDOT at this link. http://www.codot.gov/library/traffic/safety-crash-data

CDOT 2035 planning studies are available at http://www.dot.state.co.us/StateWidePlanning/PlansStudies/2035_Regional_Plans/Southeast/Southeast_2035_Plan_Final.pdf

According to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) there is sufficient capacity on Highway 50, 350 and Interstate 25 to accommodate any increase in tourism that might result from designation as an All American Roadway. Increases in traffic resulting from incremental increases in visitation of 5% to 10% per year spread throughout the day would not create a capacity problem.

Highway 50 between the Kansas/Colorado border and Lamar

This section of the Byway has the lowest volume of traffic among the segments that are on Highway 50. In the rural areas, average daily traffic volume ranges from 2,100 at the Kansas/Colorado state line to 3,800 in the smaller communities. The traffic volumes jumps to 5,750 when the Byway enters Lamar.
Accident rates are generally very low along this segment (less than 1 accident per million vehicle miles traveled), except at two points - the intersection with Highway 89 in Holly (3.6) and the intersection with Division Street in Lamar (2.38).

Highway 50 between Lamar and Las Animas

This road segment has higher traffic volume and more commercial truck traffic that the previous segment. Traffic volume is lowest in the rural area near the Bent/Prowers County Line (2,900 average vehicles per day). Highway 50 and Highway 287, a major north/south route, are combined for a 7.65-mile portion of this segment. Along this divided four-lane portion, traffic volumes are significantly higher. The highest volume along the entire Byway (14,400) is in downtown Lamar at the intersection where Highway 287 turns south. Commercial traffic accounts for a sizable percentage of the increase in volume since Highway 287 is a major trucking route between Colorado and Texas.

Accident rates vary from levels below 1 per million miles in rural areas to a high of 3.34 in Lamar. There are five intersections with rates above 2.6.

Highway 50 between Las Animas and La Junta

The Byway in the La Junta commercial district is heavily traveled by a mix of commercial and private vehicles. High traffic volume and the absence of road shoulders make it virtually impossible to stop on the roadside in La Junta's commercial district. The junction with Highway 350 where the Byway turns southwest toward Trinidad has the highest traffic volume along this segment (an average of 12,900 vehicles per day). The intersection appears confusing, especially to motorists traveling from the east and making left turns onto Highway 350.
Despite the confusing appearance of the junction of highways 50 and 350, reported accident rates are relatively low. The highest accident rate is 1.37 accidents per million miles traveled.

Highways 350 and 160 between La Junta and Trinidad

Traffic volume outside of residential/commercial areas is relatively light (under 1,000 vehicles per day), therefore the rural sections of this road can be expected to accommodate a substantial increase in vehicle traffic with little difficulty. Increased vehicle traffic in residential/commercial areas may be an issue of local concern.

Accident rates are relatively high along this segment of the Byway. About half of the points at which measurements are taken between the urban boundaries of Trinidad and La Junta have rates higher than 2 accidents per million miles traveled. The narrow shoulder over most of this segment of road makes stopping on the roadside difficult and potentially dangerous. Sight lines are occasionally shortened by topographical features.

Interstate Highway 25 between Trinidad and the Colorado/New Mexico border

The segment of I-25 between Trinidad and the New Mexico border at Raton Pass has one of the lowest traffic volumes of any section of the interstate in Colorado. With average daily traffic of between 8,000 and 8,700 vehicles (as compared to 220,400 at l-25's interchange with I-70) the only place where I-25 traffic counts are slightly lower is in the vicinity of Walsenburg.

With an accident rate ranging from .68 to 1.67, this section of I-25 has a level of accidents per miles traveled similar to most other areas along the interstate.

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Maintenance

CDOT is responsible for routine maintenance of the highway except for certain responsibilities assumed by municipalities through maintenance agreements with CDOT. These exceptions include lighting, signals and signing within city/town boundaries, CDOT operates maintenance facilities within the corridor; all are located within urban areas. There are no plans to develop road maintenance facilities in areas where the Byway's intrinsic qualities could be impacted.

The roadway and right-of-way are very clean and free of litter and debris. The roadside in many sections is kept clean by volunteer residents and businesses through the Adopt-a-Highway program.

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Roadway Improvements

Recent Improvements

In the past five years, improvements have been made to the Byway in the downtown areas of Lamar, La Junta and Las Animas. The projects include decorative medians, curb cuts for wheelchair accessibility, brick pavers, planters and trees. These improvements were completed by the municipal government in each of the three communities.

Projects in Progress

One road improvement project completed along the Byway is a direct access road constructed between Highway 50 and Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site on Highway 194. The distance is approximately two miles but in the absence of this road, visitors must maneuver two awkward intersections (ones at either end of Highway 194 in Las Animas and La Junta) then travel parallel to Highway 50 for between eight and 13 miles, depending upon the direction of travel.

The Bent's Old Fort direct access road is the highest priority road improvement project in the six-county Southeast Transportation Planning Region. When two attempts to obtain ISTEA funding for this project were unsuccessful, the County Commissioners in Otero and Bent counties, CDOT and the Santa Fe Railroad contributed a total of $166,000 for construction of the portion leading from Highway 50 across the railroad tracks to the Arkansas River. A 404 permit was obtained for the river crossing and the Public Utilities Commission has approved the railroad crossing. An interpretive site is planned adjacent to the river.

Proposed Projects

General Guidelines

1. Improvements needed to accommodate increased visitor traffic should be priorities.
2. Archeological surveys should be completed before construction activity is initiated.
3. Protection of intrinsic qualities should be considered during design of roadway improvements.

The following table summarizes all road improvement projects currently planned for the Byway. The projects are divided into two groups - projects listed in CDOT's Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, FY1997-2002 and those that are have been locally identified but not included in the State's plan. Projects are included in CDOT's program through a priority programming process that begins with hearings at the County level then progresses ultimately to the State Transportation Commission for final approval. Input is provided by the Southeast Transportation Planning Region through the Statewide Transportation Advisory Committee. The priority indicated was determined by participants in the CMP development process.

Proposed Road Improvements

 CDOT Improvement Program  Priority
Bent's Old Fort Direct Access bridge and 2-lane road, after 2002  High
Minor Resurfacing and construction - all counties, 1 997 - 2002  High
 Highway 50 Reconstruction - from Arkansas River to south Lamar limits after 2002  Medium
Highway 50 Reconstruction -Wiley junction to Ark. River, after 2002   High
 Highway 50 Reconstruction/drainage east of Hasty at Lubers Ditch, after 2002  Low
 Highway 50 Bridge over Otero Canel 1.4 miles east of SH 109, 2002  Low
 Highway 350 Bridge over draw 5.5 miles north of SH 71 , after 2002  Low
 1-25 Guard rails, 1997  Medium
 Highway 50 rerouting - 2006 three to five years  High
 1-25 Reconstruction- 2007, three to five years  High
 Highway 350 Bridge at mile post 7  High
 Shoulder widening  Med-High
 Highway 50 4-lane, state line to La Junta  High
 Redesign 50/350 junction  Medium

Impact on Intrinsic Qualities and Visitation

None of the planned improvements should negatively impact the Byway's intrinsic qualities. An archeological survey is being conducted in the Bent's Old Fort area to insure that resources are not damaged. None of the other projects involve any type of re-routing or disturbance of areas outside the road's right-of-way. Sight lines will not be impacted.

No improvements are planned for the 7.88 mile section of Highway 350 between Hoehne and Model that is designated by the National Park Service as having high potential for official route certification.

Visitation to Bent's Old Fort should increase after completion of the direct access road. Once visitor's stop at the fort, their interest in seeing more sites along the Byway may be sufficiently stimulated to impact visitation elsewhere. The only planned improvement designed to increase carrying capacity is widening Highway 50 to four lanes from the Kansas state line to La Junta. The road segments in Lamar and La Junta already have four lanes.

Updated information on CDOT Highway construction projects for southeast Colorado is at this link. http://www.codot.gov/projects/active-construction-projects/region-2-active-construction

 

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Section 3

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